Wednesday, February 4, 2009

PSA: Asians don't find slant eye/ching-chong funny

Mixed Race America would like to make a Public Service Announcement to the blogosophere. Many of you, if not all of you, have Asian and Asian American friends, colleagues, neighbors, and perhaps even family members. You've seen us at your son's music recitals. We shop at your grocery stores. We pump your gas, examine your x-rays, teach your children, and cut your hair. You've come to our home for a bbq. You've sat next to us at a concert. You've played golf/basketball/tennis/football/soccer with us/our kids/our brothers/our sisters.

So we just want to be clear about something:

Pulling your eyes into a slant or saying "Ching-Chong Chinaman" is NEVER funny. And while we're at it, that Monty Python song that you like so much? You know, the one that goes, "I like Chinese. They only come down to your knees"--yeah, that one. We know how you think that song is HILARIOUS, and you tell us that the Pythons are COMPLIMENTING Chinese people. But you know what? To us it sounds like MAKING FUN of Chinese people--and whether we are Japanese or Thai or Korean or Indian or Vietnamese or even CHINESE, we don't think it's funny.

Yes, we have a healthy sense of humor. There are A LOT of things we think are funny. We love other Python skits and songs (who doesn't laugh at the line "It's only a flesh wound.") We know how to take a joke and how to tell a joke.

But here's what we don't find funny:

*Miley Cyrus and her friends doing the slant-eyed in a photograph

*Amy Sedaris signing her books with "Ching-Chong" and adding a picture of a racist buck-toothed, slanted eyed face

[Tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man]

So please, people of the Blogsphere. If you want to continue to be invited over to your neighbor's annual Fourth of July cookout. If you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of your daughter's best friend's parents. If you don't want to make an ass of yourself in front of your "Asian American" friend. Then by all means DO NOT EVER SAY CHING CHONG OR MAKE THE SLANT EYE OR IN ANY WAY THINK IT'S FUNNY TO TELL RACIST ASIAN JOKES (and I'd add really any racist jokes--your Asian friends won't find Mexican jokes funny either) TO YOUR ASIAN/ASIAN AMERICAN FRIENDS.


Jennifer Imazeki said...


iimay said...

Hi Jennifer,
I've been keeping up with your blog (sorry for lurking!) and I really appreciate you blogging about the Miley Cyrus photo and why it's inappropriate. OCA has been getting some really ugly feedback about it - we've been getting everything from the "you're being divisive and racist by talking about race" to the "get over it you oversensitive whiners" all the way to the "well I'M offended by people who come here and can't speak English, so if you have a problem with it, go back to where you came from!" It reminded me of the comments you got when you wrote the editorial about the racist flyer last year. It's predictable white backlash, but it can be poisonous to just keep hearing the negativity. So it was a breath of fresh air to come to your blog and read this post. Thank you.

Jennifer said...

Jennifer, thanks for the Amen--I appreciate you being a fellow traveler!

And Iimay, if this wasn't my public blog comment space I'd ask you all sorts of questions about OCA and what's going on in your neck of the woods, but I'll just say that I hope, when you have the time to spare, to hear from you by email soon.

And I'm surprised and not surprised to hear about the push-back that OCA is getting. I don't know whether it's because of the "Miley Cyrus" factor (ie: she's a Disney pop princess and therefore untouchable in terms of controversy/charges of racism) or whether it's just people are so blinded to their privilege and/or to others' sensibilities that they cannot walk in someone else's shoes and see that this is hurtful/offensive to a particular segment of the population, who are both Asian American and not (in other words, I'm sure that there are plenty of non-Asian Americans who find Miley Cyrus and Amy Sedaris ridiculous and painful).

Really, this is all about walking in someone else's shoes. I grew up being taunted by racist epithets, of slant eyes being pulled at me and being called a "chink" when I was younger. For someone who has never experienced this kind of childhood racism, they think it's something that is mild or a thing of the past and don't recognize the real pain that these images and taunts create.

Greg said...

I'm not sure what is more sickening: Miley and her gang engaging in such racist behavior, or the people who claim that calling it out as racist is being oversensitive. I backtracked the photo and eventually found it on TMZ, and a few of the comments really stuck out for me. There were some who noted the asian guy looked like he was trying to make his eyes wider, and then someone commented that he could have been the one who suggested such a photo. Personally, I don't want to conjecture about the circumstances behind all of it, because in my mind there is nothing that excuses such hurtful idiocy.

That said, I do have an Asian American friend who often makes fun of his own Asian-ness, and in quite racist ways (e.g., several times when I've introduced him to friends, he talks with a put-on Japanese accent and calls himself Hello Kitty -- and similar stuff for several turns until you're like, "Okay, it was funny (was it?) the first few times, but alright already!"). I recognize this behavior (and have told him so) as problematic and abrasive, especially to people he first meets, but he's like "Dude, if they can't take a joke..." I guess I want to know why he finds this sort of thing not only acceptable, but funny.

The only conclusion I can come to is that he has some serious identity issues with being Asian-American, and this is his way of dealing with it. There are other things, too, but this is definitely not the place to get into all that...

My point with all of this, I suppose, is that there are Asians out there saying things like "Dude, get over it; it's just a joke" the same way that there are gay people who listen to (and sing along with!) that "Ur So Gay" song by Katy Perry and excuse it by saying, "But she's not saying anything bad about gay people -- it's just a phrase!" I guess this kind of leads me to my next comment (on a comment) about the learn-to-take-a-joke stance as being "predictable white backlash": I'd watch the wording on that sort of comment. Like Jennifer says in the third comment, I believe it really is about empathy and trying to walk in other people's shoes (okay, and maybe a little critical thinking, too). But there are just some people out there who are more sensitive to this sort of thing than others. Admittedly, privilege (and not just racial) can act as a sort of shield that prevents people from developing that sort of sensitive empathy, but trust me, I've met my fair share of minority (and not just racial) people who fail to see how other groups suffer just as their particular group does.

Sorry for the long comment.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for writing in. You are right that there are oftentimes people (Asian American, gay, female) who take on stereotypical/negative attributes, either as a way of saying, "I'm SO OK with myself--I can make fun of people like me because I've got a good sense of humor"--but I think your sense that your friend who is Asian American who uses a "fake" Japanese accent is not OK with his racial identity is probably on the money. I mean, it is one thing to be with your close friends and do this sort've thing (not that I'm excusing it, but I think each of us has probably said or done things with those closest to us that we'd NEVER do in public)--it's quite another for your friend to have this be his "introduction" to people he's never met before (it would make me feel uncomfortable if he did this to me, I'd have to say--I wasn't sure if he was making fun of me, of himself, of all Asian people--it just seems like an oddly aggressive thing to do).

Anyway, that's my 2 cents.

As for Miley Cyrus, I chalk it up to youthful indiscretion, and yet...I think she's being totally lame for not apologizing and being so defensive. I mean, just realize you are a public figure, you got caught doing something embarrassing (and humiliating really), and apologize already!